Ser más para servir mejor - Become more to serve better (San Ignacio de Loyola)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


In this entry I aim to achieve a double goal: i) to show as valid and needed the insight that each responsible citizen should at least have the knowledge of how to consolidate a business activity; ii) to bring attention on several issues related with teaching values today.

I assume the following three contexts: i) that the "democratic" State, say, as mere free market regulator and the rule of the majority, has finally exceeded itself, has grown oversized, and thus it poses an obvious threat for the market and, as a result, for the economic freedom of citizens; the same can be said for other areas as health, agriculture, education, culture, etc.; ii) the scenario of a non-existent State in which there is no power to protect citizens rights; iii) that the desired situation is the one in which the State is constrained and limited to protect and promote those rights and liberties, and that such a state is only found in the political concept of Republic (understood as the rule of the law and not the of the majority, which it would be the main differenced if compared with Democracy; in this regard, see the growing malaise within part of the American citizenry that denounces the supplanting of 1776 republic by a "bread and circuses" democracy.)

Why is it so important for the Republic that its own citizens learn a trade, a business activity, instead of simply aiming to be public servants? First, to avoid the State from growing even bigger, and at the same time to minimize the risk of tyranny. Second, to help creating value, which is the main reason for the existence of businesses in a free market, as Adam Smith stated himself. A society driven by core values attached to business activity is always preferable to another society in which an important part of the working force serves the Administration. If you allow me the following analogies, the former can be compared to a healthy, athletic body because of its level of fitness (activity), whereas the latest tends to look more like an obese one that could finally suffer from some sort of cancer or heart failure. The former has to be with the values that the Republic embodies, the latest with oligarchies ruled by elites. In conclusion: there are many other (and perhaps better) ways to "serve" to the common good that do not imply being a public servant. 

If the State does not favor entrepreneurship it will increase the risk of us loosing our rights and liberties. And it is precisely here where education for entrepreneurial citizens is fully relevant. Where to start? What model of entrepreneurial citizen fits best within the Republic? Which one should be his or her aim? Greed? It cannot, otherwise he or she would contribute nothing to the common good. From the stakeholder theory, professor R. Edward Freeman reminds us that capitalism is in essence (and has always been conceived as) a form of human collaboration, and according to Freeman, the best one in human history, because it allows virtually endless value creation. Then, what should define this citizen? Freeman tells us that his or her aim has to be the creation of value for his or her employees, customers, suppliers, financiers, and affected communities. Profit maximization should come second in a businessman's mind. Clearly, Freeman is demanding an important shift in the way current business activity is being carried out. Curiously, this demand claims to recover the original conception of such activity. Therefore, it assumes that an incorrect interpretation or application of capitalism has happened along history, and that it is not necessary to break off with this paradigm of economic production.

Therefore, how should an entrepreneurial citizen behave so he or she could create value through his or her business activity? Again Freeman comes handy here. He says that businessmen and businesswomen should not be taught business without ethics. This is crucial in my opinion. He calls it the "integration" thesis: "(1) it makes no sense to talk about business without talking about ethics; (2) it makes no sense to talk about ethics without talking about business; (3) it makes no sense to talk about either business or ethics without talking about human beings" (from his Stakeholder Theory. A Sate of the Art, 2010.)

Thus, it could be considered irresponsible to bring up entrepreneurial citizens without a high sense, comprehension and experience of certain values, such as the ones pointed out by Adela Cortina (in Ética de la Empresa. Hacia una nueva cultura empresarial): "quality in products and in management, honesty in service, mutual respect both inside and outside the businesses they run, cooperation or team work, creativity, entrepreneurship and the spirit of risk" (as quoted in the doctoral thesis of professor Elsa González, La responsabilidad moral de la empresa, 2001, p. 119).

Also, Freeman reminds us that it would be highly desirable to teach values, concepts and experiences relevant to business ethics from an early age, maybe since primary education, and not to wait until graduate school. This should be considered within the broader dimension of moral or character teaching. In this regard, I agree with professor Cortina when she points at education as the answer to the decisive Hobbes question of how to convince individuals to be moral, act morally (in her important paper "La educación del hombre y del ciudadano", 1995). Nevertheless, we should not forget that education remains strongly institutionalized in the case of context i) as described above, while in the case of context ii) education as a right of citizens would just simply not exist. And many of us could think that in both cases the same thing happens in the end: an authentic education in values is missing. Consequently, it should not surprise us the growing phenomenon of homeschooling in countries like the United States, which is a clear indicator that there is an increasing number of parents disappointed with the public educational system, and that they act as responsible citizens concerned about the comprehensive education of their children by creating alternative educational communities. 

In conclusion, yes to education, but of quality (and not junk education which, as it happens with junk food, it has no nutrients and causes unwanted side effects). And if the State is not providing such quality education, citizens have the moral obligation of either finding it out of the establishment or creating it themselves.   

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